A Secret History of Malaria

Malaria is big news in Africa. 1 in every 5 childhood deaths in Africa can be attributed to the disease and an African child has on average 1 – 5 episodes of Malaria fever per year. Yet children voices are strikingly absent in debates on the disease.

Journalist Sonia Shah‘s book The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years is an exception. Not only does Shah include her own childhood experiences (“Part of me despises my estrangement, my incomprehension, the fact that I must sleep under the suffocating net and take the malaria pills while my cousins don’t. But part of me is secretly glad…. When no one is looking, I crush the mosquitoes’ poised little figures with my palm and smear the remains on a hidden seam in the couch.”), she also gives voice to people including children on the ground in Panama, Malawi, Cameroon, India, and elsewhere.

Focusing on the dialectic between Africans—who have lived with the disease for years—and those Westerners who attempt to cure it, the book engages the gulf in perception between here and there; the NGOs and scientists and those who live with the disease as a fact of live.

Crucially, as reviewer Michael Schaub points out, she approaches her topic with an unforced, almost conversational writing style. Microbiology and epidemiology can get very complicated very quickly, but Shah proves to be an excellent translator, explaining even the most complicated scientific processes in an accessible (though never patronizing) way.

The grace and precision of Shah’s writing makes for a thrilling detective story, a mythical sci-fi that spans centuries, tracing our erratic pursuit of a villain still at large and still a threat to mankind. As Malcolm Molyneux, writes, “The Fever is rich in colorful detail and engagingly told. An astonishing array of characters has joined the fray, and you can only be amazed at the deviousness and skill of the archenemy.”

Drawing on these strengths, we provide an alternative/ secret history of Malaria.

Excerpt from The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years by Sonia Shah here.

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